Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hi again!

It's been so long since I've seen internet! I'm in town for a VAC meeting, and I promise that I will finally work through all my emails and messages and write you back, either this trip or next week when we start our IST for two weeks.  I hope life is going well with all of you, and thank you for the outpouring of love on facebook and in my email and mailbox - it made me so happy. Here's what I've been up to in the past 6 weeks, and there are officially photos on facebook - go check them out at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=95185&id=1081920025&l=3ca61d72a5 .

Prepairing To Leave Village

8 April – Kossouka, 9:53pm

It's amazing how much I seem to have to say when I actually get back into the habit of writing it all down! This morning was amazing, followed by the rest of the day that was just busy busy busy. I was just finishing my breakfast and contemplating starting to pack up when Simon knocked at my gate a bit before 8. I told him I would be right out, I just needed to get my bag and greet people at the CSPS. He went over there to wait for me, and suddenly not two minutes later I had children in my courtyard! Three or four, to be specific, that I don't think I've seen before. They said hello, I introduced them to the cats, and proceeded to continue packing up my tent, putting air into my bike tire, putting on my sunscreen, and getting ready to leave. We went outside, they said goodbye, and off I went. I greeted everyone, told them I was leaving, and hopped on my bike to follow Simon.

We went past a big fenced in forest, which of course caught my eye and reminded me of the big forest in Ouaga. I asked about it and Simon said that it's called Bilya (I think that's what it was) and it's a sacred forest where you go when you need to ask for something, and that they fenced it in to protect it from animals. We pulled up to his house and greeted his wife and 5 kids (Claire, Bernadette, Michel, and I forget the last two, maybe Clarissa), his mother?grandmother?, the wife of his brother who is in Cote d'Ivoire, and his neighbors, the patriarch is the retired catechist. We had coffee, and then zom-koom (with rice flour – a very different flavor but I liked it), and then they gave me a big bag of peanuts, and then they gave me a rooster! I was beside myself I was so honored and pleased, and I can't wait to go back, although I hope they won't be giving me things every time or else I'll start to feel guilty indeed. We left after about 40 minutes to go home, but on the way he asked if we could stop at the PTA meeting at Kossouka D, where three of his kids attend. I of course said yes – anything to meet new people. We went in, greeted everyone, and sat down to listen. At first glance everything looked nice and new, but then I noticed the extensive cracks that had been re-cemented in the floors and the walls. The meeting was gathering money from all the members in order to help construct a latrine, something lacking when they built the new school. They also want to build a teacher's lounge, but that can wait. It was so encouraging to see their motivation!

The rest of the day was work. We vaccinated until past 1pm, with these terrible gusts of dust hitting us every 20 minutes or so, until I could brush the accumulated piles of dust off of my clothing and could feel it turning to mud in my nostrils. Gross. I was hungry and cranky and still had a long list of stuff to do, so I cut out pretty quickly and went to get some bidons of water. I swept and dusted, did my dishes, fixed my flat tire and cleaned and oiled the chain, ate lunch, tried to figure out how to keep enough water for the chicken for the week (I ended up giving him to the CSPS guardian to keep an eye on him), figured out what I wanted to pack, took a shower, and did my laundry. Whew! I ended up not going to the stations of the cross because I lost track of time when I was in the middle of finishing everything, and pleaded my apologies to Simon when he walked by the CSPS while I was on my way to get my chicken. He was completely understanding and we made plans for the next Friday I'm back in village, but I still feel quite guilty for not paying attention. I went and sat at the CSPS and chatted with an intern and my major until past 8pm, when I went home to cook my rice, listen to the BBC, take down my laundry, and now I'm finally sitting, finishing my tea, under the stars. Busy busy, but worth it, and tomorrow I'm leaving! I'm actually kind of sad that I'm finally getting somewhere in village and now I'm leaving it, but such is life – there's still time, thank goodness.

Birthday Fun!

7 April – Kossouka, 9:09pm

Happy Birthday to me! I have officially graced the earth with my presence for 23 years. What did I do to celebrate? Well, I took the scones I managed to not eat to the CSPS this morning, arriving before 8 to things already starting since the interns are still new and eager to get going. Baby weighing went about as smoothly as usual and everyone seemed to enjoy the scones, although they told me to bring more next time. We planned out the vaccination campaign that starts tomorrow and continues for about a week (measles) and finally were free to go to the marche around noon. I had a lovely time – I was gifted a bunch of carrots (the guys have apparently forgotten that I haven't bought anything from them in over a month at least since all they have is carrots, which they keep gifting me), bought tomatoes, and turned around from greeting my peanut ladies to see a beautiful sight indeed – bananas and apples! Holy goodness, yes please – it's been a month since I've seen either. So I paid 200cfa for an apple and considered it well spent, as well as 200cfa for three giant mangoes the size of my hands, and 50cfa for some little bananas. So much goodness!

I went and sat with Odille who had brought me one of the books she uses to teach women to read (“Mam Moor Pipi Sebre” - My first moore book, or literally “My Moore First Book”). She seemed shocked that I could read the sentences and I explained that reading wasn't the problem – I know how to do that – but could she please tell me what the sentence I just read means? So we went through the first 10 lessons together (each one only has one main sentence and then becomes about practicing a certain letter) and she explained that when she teaches the literacy courses each one begins with a little health lesson since most of the example sentences have to do with health. I was thrilled, and said that perhaps after my training this month I will look for the literacy teachers here in Kossouka and see if they do the same, and if not see if we can change that. She was very supportive and said that if I wanted her to come do a project she would! She's also very insistent that she will teach me how to make degue (millet couscous in milk) and gingembre, and maybe tô if no one else shows me first. Just you wait – I'll come home and be forcing you all to try these strange Burkinabe foods because now I'll know how to make them properly! Although millet is oddly expensive in the US, unless you buy it as bird seed. Here it's a staple grain and is consumed in some form nearly every day, either as galletts (millet pancakes), degue (millet couscous), as a part of buille (porridge made of boiled flour mixture) or as the ever popular tô (boiled millet flour beaten until it becomes a gelatin-like solid). I had a conversation with a guy at Starbucks (the coffee shack behind my house where I buy bread) the other day about how you have to eat tô for breakfast, because nothing can “donne la force” (give the strength) for the day except tô – everything else just makes you weak and leaves you without force for the rest of the day.

Anyway. So had a lovely time with Odille, the rude samsa lady actually called me by my name today (!), fruit galore, and then I went home to feed the cats and eat samsa and degue and to make cornbread. I'm telling you, this dutch oven is amazing. I needed something to take to my prefet, and decided to give some to Simon as well, but also sampled quite a bit myself. By the time it was finished (talked to Doug most of the time – he's made a chicken pot pie at site! What?!) it was past 3:30pm. I waited for Lion to finish eating his lizard and left to battle the wind on my way to the prefecture. Asked about the list of community organizations, got some vague promise, was asked when I'm going to get more library books, and generally chatted. I don't think about it often, but the last time I was in his office I was new in town and could hardly carry on a conversation in French. Now I can chat politely and deflect rude advances for over an hour without problem, at least in bad African french. Cool beans.

I realized much too late that I intended to go back to the CSPS for food distribution, but I had already gone home instead and started my lasagna. All told, it took me over 2 hours from chopping the veggies to making the sauce to boiling the noodles to letting it bake in my oven, but it was delicious! I made too much, but it was my smallest pot, so I either need to buy a smaller pot or start making enough to easily share with many people. Talked with lots of people which made my day – thank you for calling! And now I'm going to bed to get ready for my busy day tomorrow!

Scones, Under the Fig Tree

6 April – Kossouka, 9:02pm

Up down. Well, today itself was pretty good. I managed to wake up before my alarm went off, but lounged in bed for a bit longer anyway, then got my breakfast bread and made my coffee and sat outside with the cats before heading to the CSPS at 8 instead of 9. I was apparently still too late and the women had already been weighed, but perhaps if I get there a bit earlier tomorrow I can help out. There weren't many women this morning – we were done before 9, a very rare event indeed. There was an inspection by the district and the NGO Medicus Mondi to check our staff's knowledge of the new national protocols for malaria treatment. I learned a bit more about malaria, they answered a bunch of questions and were told that they should have staff meetings to share information learned at formations and conferences, and then I left to go to the tap to get water.

In celebration of my birthday tomorrow I decided to bake! I finally got out the dutch oven, and I am happy to report that my first baking expedition turned out wonderfully and I firmly plan on doing so more often – next up, cornbread and lasagna! The lemon-ginger scones are delicious and I have eaten more than my fair share, but the rest are going to my CSPS staff tomorrow and I'll figure out something for the prefet when I go to bug him for that list of community organizations. I was going to go today, but just as I started baking Sali (my midwife) came to ask if I would take her to the mango grove Moussa had mentioned. I was a bit surprised, but said I'd be happy to, so an hour later, off we went. Walking, none the less! I think we got more stares from people accustomed to seeing her moto everywhere (even from one end of the CSPS to the other) than from me being the nasara. We decided that the mango grove was too crowded, so we sat under these two giant old twisty fig trees and I read and did sodoku puzzles while she studied for her concours that starts the 10th. I still don't quite get what it is, but I think it's a big test/training/application to continue on to the next level in the medical hierarchy, to move from an Accouseuse Auxilliare to a Sage Femme. We headed home when it was starting to get kind of dark and stormy looking, but it didn't rain.

Annee Blanche, Nice Day

5 April – Kossouka, 9:04pm

National News: Apparently the declaration of an annee blanche depends on students missing a certain number of hours of class time before the minister of education can begin to decide yes or no. If strikes would continue to the end of the week, they would meet the hours. If they go back now, they have to learn two trimesters worth of information in one, knowing that little to no real work will happen the first week as people get back into the swing, plus most students actually stop going to classes in the last month or so of school because they're needed to help plant the family fields. While an annee blanche would be terrible in a lot of ways, at this point it's likely that most students will fail their classes should the year continue, forcing them to repeat the year anyway. In secondary school you can fail a year once and transfer to another school to take it again, but after that you're done with your education if you don't pass. With an annee blanche, the year is erased and started over, no harm no foul. But if they don't declare it and kids who have already failed once fail again because they just weren't in class to learn the material, their education is over, unless they pay to go to private school in a big city. Basically, it's a bad situation all around, but a fair number of people think that it would be better for students if it were called.

My News: Today was a good day. I wandered over to the CSPS around 9, as usual, and had a decent conversation with my new major, who was actually in the process of fixing mistakes in the monthly report. I was convinced I was the only person who ever looked at them after they were (half) filled out, but here he was correcting the total columns, moving numbers so they lined up in the right boxes, and checking to make sure things were consistent throughout the report. What? He also showed me a section I had always ignored because it was always empty, but apparently the CSPS itself is supposed to be doing sensibilizations to teach people about health topics, and there's a place to report the number planned and the number completed for each month. I mentioned my surprise and asked if he could inform me of any upcoming ones so I can observe and learn how to do my own. He was incredibly enthusiastic and said that not only will I be observing the sensibilizations, but I'll be going on the vaccination sorties to the satellite villages (you know, what David has been assuring me for months he will do but then fails to tell me when he's going until after he comes back). I'm trying not to let my hopes get raised too high, but I'll admit that this is very encouraging.

He then took this all to mean that I'm too bored, so he called in the midwife and told her to make me weigh and take the blood pressure of the women who come for their pre-natal consultations. Well, that wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it'll be nice to be useful, even if it means getting up earlier (I'm going to miss not having to set an alarm, but life is about compromises). I sat in on the rest of the morning's consultations, read some more of the obstetrics book, and went home for lunch. I played with the cats and called a few people, and then after the repose was over I went to the library.

Have I mentioned how amazing my librarian/counterpart is? He found me the written history of Kossouka (7 pages of handwritten Moore) and then told me the story - once I type it up for my Etude I'll definitely post it here because it's quite the incredible tale. He then taught me about the traditional fete's held by the different groups here, and a little about traditional customs and spiritual beliefs. After a good 2 hours (with interruptions to greet the gendarmes, students, and teachers who showed up) we called it an evening. I'm making an effort to try and be more social and bien integre, so I started by asking if I could come and greet his family sometime this week. He seemed delighted and we decided on Friday morning – he'll come get me from the CSPS and take me to his courtyard, and then I'll meet him again that evening at the library to go do the stations of the cross (for my first time, in Moore) with his church group.

If that wasn't enough of a good day, I then went back to my CSPS to say hello, even though it was already about 5:30pm. I was having such a good time with the major and our two interns that I ended up staying until nearly 7:15pm, well past sunset, because they were all so nice and engaging and wanting to help me learn new things about medicine and Moore and Burkina in general. What a difference! We had a late arrival patient, but since it was the father of the adjoint mayor we all went and the major did the consultation. Not only did he do a decent exam and create lots of teaching points for the interns, he did a malaria rapid test and when it was negative he did not prescribe malaria medications. While that seems pretty obvious, the vast majority of people who get rapid-tested are negative for malaria but still get that as part of their diagnosis based on their symptoms and are given the pills to treat it. I was so impressed I almost hugged the man, especially for teaching such a crucial lesson to the interns – when you have the technology to rule out a disease, it's a waste to treat for that disease when the test is negative.

So it was a lovely day, a lovely evening, and then I came home, showered, made garlic mashed potatoes while listening to the news, and typed a bit while drinking my tea under the starry night sky. *happy sigh*


4 April – Kossouka, 7:19pm

World News: Haven't heard yet, the BBC comes on at 8pm.

My News: Today was my major's first day. I went to CPN's, read my french maternity book and talked to the interns (both very nice, from the school in OHG, studying to become midwives), and watched him finish the monthly report that Sylvie kindly left him. Went to the marche and bought a bunch of veggies and made Emily (who had been in Seguenega and decided to bike back by way of my village) a delicious ragout with potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. It turned out quite well, if I do say so myself. Mangoes chilled in my cannery topped off our wonderful meal, and then she hopped back on her bike to continue home. After she left I swear I intended to go to the library, or go sit outside with my neighbors, but then David called, and then Steve was near the tree where he gets reception so we talked for another 45 mins or so, and by then the sun was setting and I wanted to shower, and now it's dark, and frankly I'm in my pj's and don't want to put on real clothing to go outside and talk with people.

Ok, so plan for tomorrow. Go to CSPS, work on the Etude, ask lots of questions of my new major – anything I can think of. Go to library in the afternoon and pester Simon for Moore and history help so I can finish Etude, and ask who the primary and CEG directors are (their names, I know who the first one is, on sight). Ask if I can come to his house to introduce myself to his wife and family, possibly Wednesday at lunch or Thursday at dinner since meals are so important and a good time to sit and chat. Ask if anything important in the village is going on. Confirm plans for Friday, go home to talk to the neighbors, and catch the news. Sounds good to me!

News, Primary Schools, House Cleaning

3 April – Kossouka, 9:20pm

World News on the BBC: The US has been at war for a decade. I couldn't believe it when I heard it until I started counting back and realized that for almost half of my life the US has been at war, not including the Gulf War which was when I was too young to really realize what was going on. Crazy. Now they're debating whether it was right or not to intervene in Lybia – did we prolong a “civil war” that had civilian casualties, or are we avenging and preventing further civilian “genocidal” targeting by Colonel Gaddafi's forces? Some pastor in Florida burned a Koran a few weeks ago and now 14 people including 7 UN workers in Afghanistan have been killed after the president there condemned it a few days ago and the protesting Muslim crowd was aimed by people in the crowd towards the UN building. Should the president of a Muslim country have said something? I think so – staying silent is accepting that, idiotic as it was, it's ok to do. But qualify the need for understanding, stress the uniqueness of his actions and condemn him and the action, not all Americans or foreigners, especially not those working for your own country and people. As an American living in a Muslim country, albeit a “soft” Muslim country, I would personally like to thank him for his inconsideration for the consequences of his actions while he is safe in sunny Florida. Next time someone asks me for money or a contact in the US to help them get a visa, I'll give them his address.

Village News: My major packed up her house today and my new major moved in this evening. Sylvie had two pickup trucks piled high worth of stuff, while new guy just had one. I contrasted this with the ginormous (I love that “ginormous” is a recognized word in this processor) moving truck that was maybe 2/3 to ¾ full when my parents moved, floor to ceiling, plus our three cars packed to the brim, with a few dozen boxes left in Denver for later removal to Tucson. Americans have too much stuff, but also bigger houses and furniture that isn't light enough to toss unpadded on top of each other and tied to the bed of a pickup truck. And, I think a surprisingly high percentage of the stuff on the truck was packing materials – every fork was practically wrapped in it's very own cocoon of 2 or 3 sheets of packing paper, ensuring many large boxes with not actually that many items inside. I'm really going to miss Sylvie. I'm finally getting comfortable joking with her! Well, we'll see about the new major. At any rate I need to go make friends so I can charge my laptop if we don't get to leave village soon. I was happy to help her pack and glad to be there to greet the new major. Turns out they're just switching villages, which made the move a little easier because the truck just had to shuttle items back and forth.

My Day: I arrived under the tree between my house and my neighbor's courtyard at exactly 9am, when the inspector for the primary schools walked out the door to come get me for our meeting. He invited me in and we sat on his patio and talked for a good two hours. I finally know the days when school are, for once and for all! For primary schools it's M,T,W,F,S(am), but CM2 kids who have to pass their exam at the end of the year often go to extra classes (formal or informal) Thursday and Saturday afternoon. At the secondary school level school is M-S(am), again with extra sessions Saturday pm if necessary. Whew! We went on to talk about colonization in Burkina (that's why old people are afraid of me because they think I'm here to demand the tariff the French used to levy on all families, except that old people are usually overly respectful and welcoming to me, although I guess it could be because of that), and why people call me “nasara” - apparently they all call each other by race/ethnicity as well. If you don't know a guy and he's a Peuhl, you call him “Peuhl” until you know his name. I said that's always been fine with me, it's when people who know me call me nasara that I feel hurt and upset. He kept repeating that it's normal until they learn my name – I think we spent a good deal of time agreeing on the same thing over and over.

We also talked about some pros and cons to education here. Pro – kids learn a lot about the world around them, at least they have to memorize every country in the world, it's capital and population, and the prominent figures of important ones. The problem – poor use of resources and overcrowding. Kossouka “A” is the worst off in our commune, with 107 students in one classroom of CM2 (traditionally the most crowded because students who don't pass the exam for CEG can retake the year and the exam until they turn 16), but other schools in smaller villages have classes between 40 and 80 students per teacher. The resource use part is evident in Kossouka “D”. The newest school, built last year, has three classrooms and was budgeted about 13.5 million cfa (say, $26,000) by an entrepreneur, but it's already falling apart with cracks in the walls and floors, etc. The going theory is that, with all the people who had to be brought in to consult throughout the process, the school itself got built with low-grade materials, and now a building supposed to last 30 to 40 years is falling apart before it was even dedicated or listed in the national free lunch program. This is also happening in Inou and Kiblega, schools built within the past 10 years that need to be repaired or replaced, instead of those funds building other new schools in Kossouka where they're badly needed to relieve overcrowding (see Kossouka “A”).

Overall, it was very informative and was really refreshing to have a real conversation with someone in my village, albeit one who is a functionaire and not actually from the village. Now I just need to track down the CEG director. Oh, and they are making Kossouka into a lycee (turning the CEG “middle school” into a middle/high school), adding a 2eme next year, but they need to build more classes and a science lab for the science track BAC students. After talking all morning I went home, made lunch (soy-ginger onion rice), and chilled with the cats. I read. I talked to Sunyata and Al. I made a list of all the things I want to do when I get back to Colorado. I talked to Robyn for half a minute, but I'm completely out of unite, so when she texted me asking for advice I couldn't even call for half a second to tell her I'll call tomorrow. Sophie threw up and had diarrhea, but seems to be doing better now – Robyn told me that cats are lactose intolerant so now I'll stop giving them milk so often!

I have a kitten sleeping on my stomach as I type this. Life is good. He's just so cute! The boys got quick baths today and smell so much nicer – at least clouds of dust don't puff off when I pet them. Lion fell asleep this afternoon curled on my stomach, head hanging over my arm – I got a picture. Soon I'm going to have more pictures of cats than of anything else in Burkina! Although a lot of them are pretty good photos, if I do say so myself. I'm reading The Idiot by Dostoevsky, and it's going better than I expected for a monstrously long classic. I can't believe I regularly used to read 500 page books as a middle-schooler – it's so daunting! So far it's been engaging, but is also a book I can put down if I need to do other things, and so I'm only about 90 pages in after a day and a half. I really want to finish The Lord of the Rings (I only brought the first two from the Transit House and haven't been back since), and David promised me that he has the other books in the Shadow series, which has me overjoyed. Still figuring out about visiting KDG around the VAC meeting. I'd like to go before so I can drop off the kittens, but either way I'd be gone from village for the better part of a week (5-6 days), then back for 3-4 days, then gone for 2 weeks for our next training. It's too long to stay in Ouaga or KDG between, but too short to come home and do anything besides say hello and sweep my house out.

Speaking of cleaning the house, now that I've started doing everything outside I had essentially stopped cleaning the house on any kind of regular basis. Then I was in my bedroom changing clothes and noticed the smell. I thought the cats had been peeing on the corner of the bed, but it turned out to be a dead lizard under the corner of my mattress – gross! So I deep cleaned the house (moving the furniture, mopping the floors, dusting everything), stripped the bed and leaned it against the wall, and plan on regularly sweeping and dusting again. It took me a good 3 hours to clean my little house, but now it is termite and dead lizard free. Speaking of dead lizards, yesterday Lion caught his first 2 lizards. He plays with them for an insanely long time before they finally (thank goodness!) die, and then he eats them, head first if you're interested. Sophie stole the second half of the second one and ate it himself. All these things I've missed never having raised outdoor cats before.

Mail on the Bus, New Boss,

1 April – Kossouka 6:36am

Well, normally I wouldn't be up this early, but I had to send my MIF kit on the STAF bus and pick up my anti-malaria meds from the Med Office. I absolutely love the informal mail system here – what a great idea! The postal service is slow (rural offices get and send things twice a week), inconveniently located (the nearest one to my village is 11km away) and somewhat unreliable since, as we've found, people who don't feel like working just don't. Actually, I don't think I wrote down that story – basically, when we were trying to leave Seguenega after IST we all needed money, which we get out of accounts with the post office. It was closed all morning for an inspection, but they said they'd re-open in the afternoon. So we went after lunch and they were all standing there, but were “too tired” after the inspection to do any work, so they were closed again until the next day, when we had wanted to leave early, before the post opened. So we were obliged to wait, Emily and Alicia almost missed their bus, and I had to wait to pay our hotel bill and ended up biking home when it was getting hot instead of early like I had planned.

So instead of the post, you take advantage of the bus system, which, although sometimes quite late, is at least reliable in that you know it will eventually get to it's destination sometime that day. As I found out this morning, it's simple – you take a package to the stop with the name and destination written on it, pay a small amount (500cfa for a small envelope package the size of my hand – seemed a bit much but I wasn't going to complain) and off it goes to it's destination. I also picked up the bag the office sent me yesterday. I missed the incoming bus, but they just left it in the bus office until I asked for it this morning – much more convenient since the morning bus arrives within a 15 minute window, while the afternoon bus typically arrives within a 2 hour window. I know a system like this wouldn't really work in the US – the mail system is reliable and the bus system is under-utilized – but it's pretty handy for Burkina. So now my test is on it's way to Ouaga, and I have enough malaria pills to see me through the next three months.

In local news, the passing of power from my old major to my new major finally happened so now I officially have a new boss. His last name sounds like a mix between Sandwich and Samedi – I think it's Sanwidi, and his first name is Adema. He's young and seems nice enough although not a particularly forceful presence at first meeting. And, wonder of all wonders, I was sitting in my courtyard during the repose and David came to get me for the ceremony. What?! Something important was happening and they came to tell me? No, it couldn't be. Although that reminds me, I need to call Congo and tell him that I have a new major and thus a new contact person. They could call Sylvie in her new village, but then she'd have to call here, and it's just faster to go direct, you know? It wasn't very formal – we sat around and gave little speeches, then Sylvie stood up and handed the official CSPS books over to Adema and that was that – they went off to Seguenega to formalize the paperwork and I went to go get some water so I could shower and cook dinner that evening.

IST, Napusda

26 March – Kossouka, 9:17pm

The rest of IST did get better – I didn't actually improve the amount of Moore in my working vocabulary all that much, but I have a lot of notes that I can study and got a lot of clarification on things I say regularly, like the proper responses to greetings that we didn't learn in stage but everyone in my village uses regularly. I'm glad to be back in village, but it was fun to spend a week with Emily and Alicia and the kittens (yes, they came too!). I'll admit, I will miss getting to watch the news in English during breakfast with the fathers (we stayed at the Catholic Relief Mission), but otherwise I'm glad to be back to my routine.

Today was the marche and the Napusda (I think that's how it's spelled on the polo shirts), the traditional festival/fete held by the cheif every year. I had intended to go with my CSPS staff, but didn't talk to them yesterday and did a little laundry this morning (so I'd have something clean to wear) and by the time I went out, they had left! So I made the interns take me instead. :) We passed the parking lot of motos, bikes, and even 10 (!) cars as we walked up the hill to the cheif's concession. We followed the crowd into the maze of houses, and I was quickly greeted by Sarata (she's one of the cheif's daughters), which made me happy. Her new outfit (that matched the rest of her siblings) was lovely and made me smile because I could compliment it in Moore. We greeted three women from the family, all of whom were touchingly enthusiastic about meeting me and I made a mental note to go back, even if I don't want to be totally associated with the chief (you never know who doesn't get along with the cheif and will thus boycott your projects). We waited with our chairs while a flood of millet heads, woven together at the base so it formed fluffy bouquets, were moved past us before ducking into what surly must be a child's playhouse and out the other side into a huge courtyard. I was stunned at how many people had gathered back here, and couldn't tell exactly if it's normally a part of the concession or if it's just the open place behind it. Our chairs were placed near the other “special” people, although as late arrivals we weren't under the tent and actually were almost in an aisle being used by performers entering and exiting.

The singing admittedly caught me off guard. I saw a guy in incredibly elaborate formal bubu robes, and asked Ken who he was, thinking maybe some kind of dignitary. “That's the singer.” Eh? Lo and behold, he took a microphone and this unexpected high, nasal drone came out of his mouth as he sang – I don't think I've ever heard anyone sing like it before. All I could catch from time to time was “Naaba” (chief) and “Kossouka”, but it was pretty cool with the drummers (playing giant halves of calabashes on the ground in front of them) and the back up singers just droning the same sentence over and over, almost hypnotically. The rich people under the tent started coming up and giving him money while he was singing and it turned into this bizarre production, counting off crisp bills and stuffing them into his hand one at a time to show just how much they were giving. It got worse during later acts, with people being egged on to give more and more, carelessly flipping them into the air at the performer or even sticking them to the facial sweat of the singer and his drummer. One guy was right in my line of site and peeled off 8 2,000cfa bills. While 16,000cfa is only $32, it's an unimaginable amount to hold at one time for most people here. And this guy was peeling these off a stack of bills! The performers were being very well compensated for their time, let's put it that way – I'm sure the groups of dancing girls (especially the one with the little girl showing off amongst her teenage brethren) might have raked in 100,000 cfa. That's the amount given out as a national lottery prize! I later learned that this might not be completely normal, or at least is considered distasteful by the functionares when done in view of people who can't even scrape together 5,000cfa for a hospital bill, but here it is being thrown to the ground in a display of wealth by a few. Very interesting indeed, the giving and the reaction by people who aren't rich but are certainly very well off by village standards.

The dancing was incredible. There was one woman in an otherwise male group and I swear watching her dance made my breath catch. There were a few parts that were quite sexual, but she looked the best when she was just letting her body move in these great, huge, unconstrained swings of movement, arms arcing, feet pounding, knees kicking up high, head flinging back and forth with her motions. It was wild. One of the girls troups (the one with the little girl) were the same – smiling and feeding off each other's energy as they just let loose to the beat of the drums and the balafone. The men's troup was doing acrobatic stunts, building human pyramids and towers while still dancing all the while!

After the performances were over we all left in a cloud of dust and Ken took me to sit in the place were we'd had the CVD meeting. We sat waiting for the chief to greet him, but after an hour of texting Emily continuously we were still no closer to seeing the elusive head of the party, so we gave up and went outside to watch some of the villagers dancing. It was hypnotizing, with very repetitive drum beats and kind of cow-bell-like instrumental additions. We took a detour to meet Ken's family, just the next concession over, where he told me the blacksmiths live. Sweet! We greeted his father, who gave me an entire bag of onions, and then his mother who invited us to eat with them. Thankfully it was rice, and not only that, it was delicious! The sauce was a mystery, but very tasty, and there was some kind of mystery meat (not chicken or goat, but beyond that, who knows) that was very good as well. He told me to come back and chat with them, and I know it will be frustrating at first, but I think I'm going to try and get the nerve up to go again soon. I really want to adopt a family, and be forced to speak Moore, although it'll be hard if no one can translate from time to time. Still, I want a family that won't laugh at me when I screw it up, or at least who laughs in a nice way. But I have to give it a chance, no? Went to chill at the major's for a little, found out she's leaving Tuesday (maybe). I'm bummed, but better while I'm still here for a few days to meet the new one than while I'm away.

In other awesome news, Simon agreed to be my counterpart! I guess if I help him with the library, he's willing to help me with my health projects. And I talked to Odille (my bissap lady) today and she promised me green beans, and once I got home some random woman came and knocked on my door to offer to sell me potatoes (I had been asking around the marche), so now I have beautiful potatoes for dinner!

Site Visit, IST

18 March – Seguenega, 11:00pm

Well, here I am at IST. My site visit went pretty well – Dr. Claude and Michelle showed up a bit later than expected and everyone had left already after baby weighings since it was the day of the marche. So we talked to Boreima (the treasurer of the CoGes, the group that handles all the $ of the CSPS), and visited the major and the mayor after doing the checklist of safety and integration things. While it was kind of like she was there to help, it was also a bit like taking an exam or being evaluated, to the point that I'm pretty sure she had a much more positive view of my situation than the reality. But they brought me a delicious salad and cold water for lunch, and drove me to Seguenega, so I can't complain much.

This language thing is hard. Our LCF, John-Pierre, is super nice and helpful, if a little too eager to speak English, but it's hard being with Alicia. She's amazing, I love her, but her level of Moore is so incredibly beyond mine that she jokes with the people we're talking to and then they look at me and ask if I understand or if I just don't talk. No, sadly, I don't understand, that's why I'm not saying anything, because my Moore is still just at the point of greeting people. I can almost say that I work at the CSPS, but I can't tell you why or what I do there. I don't understand your questions, I don't understand your jokes – trust me, I wish I did, but I don't. And it's frustrating because I know we need to practice and be in the community and such, but frankly it's just like what I do all day every day – I sit and listen to people speak Moore. Now two of the people are white like me, but I don't understand what they're saying either. And while it's nice that they can translate and tell me what a word means, 5 seconds later I've forgotten it, or written it down but still won't be able to remember it without looking. The formal classes are better because I can write stuff down, but doesn't take into account all of the little differences that come up in conversations. So if I could just tape the conversations and get someone to translate it on paper word for word that would be perfect. But the classroom lessons are rather boring and make me long to at least be interacting with people, even though it's incredibly painful. I know that some people never learn their local language, but I really want to – it's killing me that I just cannot seem to shove Moore into my head. I have to learn in an organized manner – I can teach myself French out of a well organized book – so this random list of words and verbs and greetings is just like drowning in paperwork. I keep telling myself it will get better, and I know it will with time and practice, but for the moment language remains a source of frustration.

We watched Friends tonight. I haven't watched an American TV show in 5 months. I miss America-land. And Robyn. And crew. And food, so much. And understanding people and situations and feeling in control of my life. I really think that's what it comes down to – I can't take the complete loss of control that living in this completely new culture entails. It'll happen, I know, but it's hard right now.

Community Meeting, Planning for IST

16 March – Kossouka, 7:29pm

Kittens, kittens everywhere and into everything! Good thing they're cute, that's all I'm saying.

Today was good. Woke up, ate, lounged, headed over to the community meeting at 9am (it was supposed to start at 8, but guess what?) We started around 9:30 or so, not bad. I got to introduce myself (I did a pretty decent job, if I do say so myself) and we were done around 10:50ish. The women sat in the back but there were about equal numbers of men and women, although only one spoke up in the big assembly while a couple of men asked a lot of questions (I really wish I could have understood what they were asking). I shook more hands than I can count, than headed home to get water and stopped and chatted at the CSPS.

I was pretty proud of myself, actually – there was a guy from Seguenega sitting at the dispensaire and I managed to carry the conversation in Moore past the greetings! Granted, that was because he was asking me to be his wife and how many children we would have, but I was able to joke along and tell him that 10 would be fine with me if he had the money. I lost it after that and we switched to French, but it was pretty cool to get a little past the routine greeting. I didn't understand every word, but I got the gist well enough, kind of like how I get by in French. He said he was coming for lunch, but of course he didn't actually come despite my genuine acceptance of his self-invitation.

I used up my veggies in a big stew again. I really need to vary my meals, but I guess I'll keep doing this until I'm tired of it or until the veggies at the marche change. I should experiment with different spices, and I think it really needs some kind of carb – I was still craving something, like bread or pasta or oatmeal.

When I finally went to the library I felt rather productive getting to talk to Simon. I asked him about the CVD members, and if he could hook me up with an homologue, and if he would come meet Dr. Claude and Justin tomorrow morning when they come for my site visit, and about the history and traditions and commerce of Kossouka. He said he'd get back to me on the homologue and history, but we talked about the rest, and it was thoroughly helpful. I really wish he could be my homologue, but I feel like he's already quite busy and honestly not all that interested in health. I came home and sat around the CSPS for a while – met the cheif's son and learned a little Moore from Ken, one of our interns, told people that I have my boss coming tomorrow, and headed home to set up my tent, shower, and try to call people back. And here I am, with my tea, getting ready to get my radio and hear the update on the war in Libya, the nuclear reactor meltdown in post-tsunami Japan, and whatever else the news has brought.

In Burkina news, there are peaceful demonstrations planned in Ouaga, and standfast is lifted so that we can all go to IST, and even travel through Ouaga as long as we're not staying the night.

CVD Meeting, Mango Grove Sanctuary

15 March – Kossouka, 7:21pm

Here in village, life is calm. I woke up and went over to the CSPS to wait for Simon, who came around 8:15. We biked over to the cheif's concession, and the meeting started around 8:30 – not bad for Africa time. There's a village meeting tomorrow (8am at the mairie, but they explicitly told me 8am Africa time, so I'll go at 9:30) to tell people about all these new projects that are going to happen. I didn't quite figure out who all is paying for them, but we'll get there. I made a small speech about working together, but I figure I'll talk to Simon tomorrow to see about finding a good counterpart when I return my library book. After the meeting ended an hour later I went back to the CSPS and started making a list of things I need to do to finish my Etude, most of which involve asking questions of my CSPS staff or Simon, and then typing the whole thing up and translating it into French.

After lunch, Moussa showed up and we rode out to the mango trees. I have found heaven on earth, and it is in Kossouka (well, Napalgue) under a mango tree. The shade was thick, the conversation with Moussa and another teacher was interesting (politics of BF and Cote d'Ivoire, where Moussa is from), and I got to listen to my iPod and finish the chapter on the future tense and even use it a few times in our conversation. There were cows wandering around and one was licking the ears of another – the one being bathed looked so happy, just like the kittens when they're cleaning each other! It was adorable. It's maybe 1k from my house, so I'll absolutely be going back, and maybe find a way to take the kittens with me. Very relaxing and calm.

After I came home around 3:30 I got a bidon of water and sat with Sali at the maternity while she studied for her concours and I read my French children's book. Chatted briefly with Ilias, but he was the one to end the conversation tonight! What? Left around 6pm and came home to set up my tent and shower. Sitting outside under the half moon with two adorable kittens – life is good. I'm so glad that no matter what happens during my day, they almost always end happily in the calm of my courtyard.

NB – I've been here for 154 days. Only 650 days (give or take) left to go. Weird - I don't really know how I feel about it.

A day in the life

14 March – Kossouka, 7:38pm

I'm so glad the vaccination campaign is over! While it was amazing and energizing to see the sunrise again (I miss crew!), I loved waking up outside this morning as it got light out and then being able to roll over and go back to sleep for a little while. I sat outside listening to music, eating leftovers from dinner last night, and drinking many cups of coffee with sweetened condensed milk (sooo good and such a bad habit to develop). Dinner last night was every veggie I had (2 onions, 3 small eggplants, 4 small green peppers, 8 small tomatoes, 3 cloves of garlic) cut up and tossed in a pot with water, piemont (hot pepper), Maggie onion and spice, garlic pepper, Hawaiian seasoning salt, and the rest of a package of macaroni added at the end for good measure. A little overly salty, but delicious and it made enough for dinner last night as well as breakfast and lunch today. I was trying to read my book (All The Pretty Horses) but just couldn't get into it and listened to music instead. What a lovely way to wake up!

At 9 I finally corralled the cats and headed over to the CSPS to study and chat. Started on the future and conditional tenses in French. I will be ready for IST! (In Service Training, for language and technical skills) Came home, ate the rest of my veggie melange, went to the market for more vegetables, and got fish for the cats and munchies for me (gallettes and a gateau). Sarata came over a bit before 2, and we sat and chatted for a bit. When Ilia (my erstwhile tutor) showed up she tried to hide, then became really shy and reluctant to be around us – it might have been the subject, we were talking presidential politics and the protests, or it might have just been that she's a young teenager and he's a man. I worked hard to just listen and stay neutral in my own position (PC policy – we want to be able to work with everyone, so taking a political stand is a no-no), but it was still very interesting to explore the current situation here and in our neighboring countries. Sarata excused herself after a bit, but I told her to come back tomorrow.

Ilia left and I went back to the CSPS. I greeted everyone and started back on the French, but went to watch a birth with David and one of the interns. The mother was 17 years old, and at her last pre-natal consultation in February she weighed 107 lbs. I swear her stomach looked so small I was convinced the baby must be premature, but when David finally lifted him out into the world the baby was a healthy 3kg (6.6lbs) and hollered like crazy. The body can be pretty amazing!

Moussa showed up and we chatted for a while in our mix of French/English. Ilias (my petit african) walked by and said hello and it turns out they're brothers. Eh? How are they so totally different? The three of us had a nice conversation, and I found out that school is restarting the 28th. In theory. We're hoping to avoid the annee blanche, so we'll see how it all turns out. An annee blanche is declared by the department of education when school has been delayed for over 2 months, and it essentially wipes the year out of memory – every student re-does that class the next year instead of continuing on. After Moussa left, Simon, my librarian, showed up to tell me about the meeting for the CVD (committee villagoise de development) tomorrow. Sweet! Maybe I can find someone who wants to be my homologue for our technical training in April! Crossing my fingers.

Left around 6:30pm, greeted my neighbors, then headed home to set up my tent and chill. I have now mastered the shower with half a bucket of water, a necessity when your water barrel is running low and you forgot to go to the tap before the solar power cuts around 4pm. Watched the sun set and drank my bissap and gingembre that I bought at the marche. I hear my major talking with the inspecter (head of the primary schools for our district) next door, but I love having my quite evenings of solitude, sitting under the half-moon while listening to music or reading while drinking my tea (which I have yet to make). I'm finding it easier and easier to go to bed early – there's just no reason to stay up and let the mosquitoes keep eating on me.

Vaccination Campaign, Visitor Kitty, Homesick

12 March – Kossouka, 9:03pm

It's been a difficult couple of days. A door to door polio vaccination campaign started on Thursday, meaning I'm getting up much to early to go biking around to other villages, and nationally things with the students are just getting worse. Sunyata came and visited for 8 Mars (well, actually it just happened to coincide that her being able to visit was on the holiday) and it was lovely to have the company and see the village through new eyes. Now I have an extra kitten, and unfortunately we got put on standfast exactly an hour after she got back to Ouaga. The plan was that she would go to an art festival in her old village near Fada, and instead of leaving Lion with friends in Ouaga she would stay here with Sophie and me, to be returned when I went into Ouaga for my VAC meeting that was supposed to be tomorrow but has since been postponed. So she's stuck in Ouaga and couldn't go to the art festival anyway, and I'm stuck here and can't return Lion. Oh well, at least she's good company and keeps Sophie running around!

It's finally starting to hit me just how homesick I am, constantly thinking about my friends and college and crew spring break and skiing and Denver and camping and dancing to music I actually like. They told us this would happen but somehow I didn't expect it to be like this. Ilias (the boy who wants to marry me when he becomes a doctor) was saying that now that I'm going to be Burkinabe and live here for the rest of my life I can just forget about the US, and I had to leave abruptly since I could feel tears threatening imminently. It's been very sudden and really depressing – I want to go home so badly it hurts. I know I need to find a family here, but frankly, having a family involves opening up and having obligations – things I've enjoyed not having to deal with since I got here. It's lonely, but I don't answer to anyone about my time. I didn't feel like leaving my house this afternoon after biking around all morning, so I didn't. I didn't have to tell anyone, or feel like I let someone down by not showing up, I just was able to sit and talk with people and read and take photos of the cats and set up my tent as the sun went down. It was so nice!

And, a week later, I'm convinced that both of the cats are boys. I'm going to keep calling him Sophie.


4 March – Kossouka, 8:19pm

I think my kitten might not be a Sophie after all – she might be an Albert. While she's not exactly thrilled with me poking around her groin (in fact, she gets pretty annoyed) I honestly have no idea – I've never sexed a kitten, so I guess if in a few weeks it becomes more obvious, we'll revisit the issue of her/his name.

The NFL, Sophie

3 March – Kossouka 8:30pm

Dear America – eh?! I listen to the BBC World News Hour at night to find out what is going on in the world. This recently has been an hour about political issues and the civil wars going on in North Africa. Most “human interest” stories are short 30-second blurbs – i.e. Mazda is recalling a car prone to spider infestation (weird and terrifying) or environmental efforts in Spain. But the NFL dispute between owners and players who can't agree how to split 9 billion dollars in revenue got an extended 7 minute interview. I'm in my lovely little house in third-world Africa, without electricity, without running water, without internet or newspapers, but I know that if the NFL doesn't reach some decision by midnight there are concerns that the next season might be *gasp* delayed or even (don't even think it!) canceled. I agree with Obama – there are people in the US (let alone the rest of the world) who are struggling to pay their mortgage (or, you know, feed their children) and you can't agree on who deserves to be a billionaire vs a mere millionaire – you should really take a hard look at your priorities. I know everyone deserves to get paid for the work they do, but come on. Clearly I just don't appreciate the sport enough.

I'm enjoying having Sophie (the kitten) around. She's getting much friendlier and adventurous, and doesn't jump as much when loud or surprising noises happen. She still sleeps constantly, but that definitely fits me and my life. She has kind of a cute broken squeaky meow, ginger stripes with white patches on her shoulders, face, and paws, a bubble-gum pink nose, clear blue eyes that sometimes take on a gray tint, and a very loud purr. She likes to have her back rubbed, less so for her ears. She tolerates being picked up but doesn't like to be held for too long. Sometimes she wanders around the house meowing for no obvious reason. She likes to chase my feet as I walk (very dangerous!), play with crumpled paper, and chase a q-tip tied to a piece of dental floss. She clearly prefers fish, but I'm hoping to introduce other foods to her diet as well. Her first day she stayed hidden in a corner under my folded cot, but now her preferred place is under my reading chair, which is perfect because I can reach under and pick her up when I want to..

FESPACO, New Kitten!

1 March – 7:08am

Busy last few days! After a short week at site (summery: my major was sick in Seguenega for most of it, I did baby weighings, World Food Program rations, wondered what we're going to do with Leukman the 13 year old who weighs 11kilos, kept missing my bissap lady at the marche, found that Alimata the galette lady had been getting her teeth pulled in Kongoussi), I headed out again to Ouaga on Friday for FESPACO, the international African film festival held every 2 years. I was afraid I wasn't going to get to go because of the student riots here – we were getting texts to stay out of the center of towns and to call Congo if we were going to be in Ouaga. So I got his ok and headed in. There were demonstrations and marches in a couple of big cities, and schools across the country canceled school until today (tuesday), but when I got into town it seemed completely normal and everyone I talked to dismissed it as not a very big deal.

I showed up at the Transit House and said hello to everyone. We chatted, went to the bureau to get packages, and then dropped stuff off at the TH. Lunch was attcheke, a shaved manioc cous-cous served with veggies in a mayonaise sauce. It was really good, but I got quite sick after, so maybe I'll be avoiding it in the future. Sunyata and I watched the new Alice in Wonderland and played with her kitten, Lion, but I fell asleep during the movie so at some point I'll have to watch it again.

Woke up the next morning feeling much better and after a shower I went to use the internet and consolidate my packages. I made brownies, much to the delight of the other people in the house, and we planned what we were going to do that afternoon for the festival. We missed going to the opening ceremonies, so we made plans for a late movie as a group at the French Cultural Center. When we got there we noticed the art gallery, so of course we went in to take a look. We assumed that the artist was a Burkinabe painter, but were then informed that actually it was a Frenchman. The paintings were absolutely stunning – strong women, stoic men, abstract figures dancing – all of them were amazing and somehow very touching and moving. I fell asleep in the movie a few times – it was called Visages des Femmes, a 1985 film being shown in hommage to the Ivoirian director who had passed away last year. It was honestly a bit confusing and I couldn't really follow it, but it was interesting enough. After we got out it was pretty late, but some of us were still hungry so we caught a cab to Chez Simon and had a midnight dinner – delicious!

The next day when I was leaving Ouaga I had some bus confusion, but made it to Sabce to see Wendy. It was nice to see her, and hopefully nice for her to have company. We made a salad of potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and mayo – very tasty - and I started playing with the kittens. Although I was a bit hesitant, I went with the one we caught first, who was very calm and relaxed when I picked her up and held her, and although she's no Lion, I think of the two I made the right choice. The next day we waited for her homologue to show up to take us to meet people, but he kept putting it off so we toured a little bit, bought lunch for the girl who helps out around her house, made ourselves lunch of bread with mayo, mustard, VQR, and tomatoes, and played with the kitties.

Once I made my choice and boxed up my cute gingery kitten (who was NOT happy to be in the box but calmed pretty quickly), we went to wait for the bus. We waited. And we waited. We drew a crowd. They finally dispersed. We stopped the first bus but they said the one to Seguenega was coming. Two blew right past town, leaving me in a bit of a panic. I called Salamata, the midwife at my CSPS, and then my major called me back to tell me that the bus was in Malou, about 30 minutes away. I don't know why it was so late, but was incredibly grateful! I hopped onto the seriously overcrowded bus with my boxed kitten, and off we went.

She was so good! Once I opened the box flaps she could peek out and was much calmer – I petted her the entire way home. We got to Kossouka and when I took her out of her box she ran and hid! So I got her, put her back in the box after showing her food, water, and new litter box, and she went to sleep. We played and she slept off and on, and then we settled into bed to go to sleep around midnight. I was worried that she still hadn't peed, but she made it until about 6am when she woke me up to play. I put her in her litter box, she hopped out, we went back to bed, and then she snuggled up next to me so she could pee on me. How sweet. Now we've spent the morning playing and sleeping (well, not sleeping on my part), and now she's in my lap as I type this. She's not immediately as playful and friendly as Lion, but I think she's going to be a nice character to have around.